by Christopher Sly


Rocket guards my first novel – A Hand Full of Sand – typed on the back seat of a 72′ Chrysler parked on the beach in the Redwood National Park in Northern California.


Story Physics

Before I create the beat-by-beat, I want to consider the meta-story structure. I intend to use a combination of dramatic lines –

  • Suspense: I am going to use audience superior
  • Thriller: The hero will driving toward solution while fleeing death

I am conflicted about the thriller line which is constantly on the run. I want to grab the reader by the heart and drag hem into the story, but I do not want to dedicate myself to one long chase scene. Suspense is a super-powerful way to jack the tension line while slowing the thriller pace to provide pace-break, and escalation.

Genre definition combines both the story content and the story delivery. It is not enough to aim for science fiction. I also need a word to describe the delivery. If I am going to build my career on a particular story-physics, I feel good about pursuing mastery of developing a suspenseful story. Suspense, according to Aristotle, is fueled by exactly the two forces I see as controlling human behavior –

  • Fear that the bad thing will happen
  • Hunger for the good thing to happen

Next up – audience fears/hungers versus character fears/hungers


Outline Deadline: Jan 30

It is a long way to chapter one. I am going to build a beat-by-beat outline, which I am not going to publicly post. What I WILL do is blog the outlining process and progress. I have written three novels. I want to take everything I learned from that experience, and the wisdom I have gained from other writers, and establish a writing cycle that cranks out a novel a year until I am dead.

This novel is not going to save my family Christmas. It is unlikely to save next Christmas, but I am going to have it done.

I need to set some deadlines, and keep them. Since all thing are not equal, I am going to push the envelop on this project. It is December 17th. I have less than 6 months until I have to move out, at which time, the future is a vast unknown. I need o factor that in. I need to finish this novel before the end of May, or this project runs the risk of ending incomplete.

At 2,000 words a day, that is a 60K word novel in 30 days. The cheater here is that I am not going to write it until I have outlined it. Speaking from experience, 2k a day is easy sneezy, but that doesn’t mean is is good.

Maybe I will shoot for a process that allows 30 days to outline, 30 days for the first draft, and 30 days to edit. I am still cheating on this first one, because this story has been under development for a long time. But I can call this the pilot to the series, and cut myself a little slack, and complete 3 books a year in this series. LOL. Good enough, for now. I am going to give myself until February 1st to outline.

On February 1st, I start chapter 1.


Welcome to Bacchus Town

The issue with the Bacchus Town plotline is it slides the story back into fantasy. I don’t think I want to use the threshold as a mechanism for this series. This is a chess game between Bacchus and Shakespeare, and I don’t want to confuse the structure by dropping in-frame.

I do want to bring awakening into the plotline. I do want awakening to be a story that Shakespeare is trying to shut down. To control story, Shakespeare must prevent the escape from story space.

Do I really want to make this Bacchus V Shakespeare? The plotline has to jump through some very difficult hoops to pull that off. It brings some powerful elements to the story, though, and grounds the conflict to ancient history. Do I want that? One thing it could do is bring an audience.

I need to be very careful not to stray off target. My aim is science fiction, not fantasy. I spent some time thinking about this line in the past and have an approach that keeps the story out of the fantasy genre using science fiction and visionary fiction mechanisms.

This line explains how Bacchus happens to be a teenager in a future civilization ruled by Shakespeare. It is not quite fantasy. OK, it is, but targets the visionary fiction audience rather than the magical world audience. It is just fuzzy enough that maybe SF can be stretched to include the mechanism of reincarnation, and the mechanism of an elixir of immortality. If I can just get away with these two mechanisms, not only can it be Bacchus V Shakespeare, but Shakespeare turns out to be the man behind the myth of Zeus, and Bacchus is the son he murdered and stole the elixir from all those years ago.

How this differs from my previous version is that it occurs in the distant future rather than the present, and focuses on religion rather than politics. This allows me to take this past Christianity and Islam, and create a story that makes clear the religious metastory used to trap the people and keep them from awakening.

Originally I wanted this story to occur in the contemporary present, but now I think it is stronger to place it in a distant future in which Pirates have succeeded in controlling the story, like in 1984.

I’m going to lock this in, and gear up to create a project calendar.


Writer’s War

It seems a little odd to write a fantasy novel about people getting trapped inside of a fantasy. My first instinct is to reject placing this in the fantasy genre, but on the other hand, guess where the people trapped in fantasy are? If I am going to write a novel trying to raise awareness about the malevolent intentions of some fantasy writers, shouldn’t I be making the case to fantasy readers? Or is this trying to sell the exact audience exactly what they don’t want? Think they would appreciate the irony?

This is a total mind-fuck. I just opened a line where fantasy writers are the villains, and I am considering making it a fantasy. If I were to draw a line between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and look at the audience demographics, I suspect Harry Potter is a Middle School novel, and The Hunger Games is Young Adult. The HG audience must feel that the events in the story could be real, that it could happen to THEM, if they were in that society.

I am not writing the next Harry Potter. Not only can’t I place this in the fantasy genre, not only does it contain villains who are fantasy writers, but it is holding up fantasy readers as the dupes. This is a writer’s war over the players (readers). I better watch out for the science fiction writers, also. LOL. What about the military writers? Spy writers? Shit, I have the worst cast of villainous rogues in all of literature.

Once again, it would seem, my protagonist is going to be a writer. My writer’s war between Bacchus and Shakespeare just escalated, as Shakespeare gathers his jolly, saucy crew.  I may be back to writing Bacchus Town as a series about a “underground” writing school in a society ruled by malevolent Pirate writers who well know the chaos a Hero playwright could unleash in their story.



Insanity Prevention Police

Somebody please stop me before I write this story. Nobody? OK, then…

Let’s talk about film rights, and how no studio is crazy enough to make the film. So what? It’s a novel. OK, no agent will accept it, no publisher will publish it, no bookstore will carry it, no library will shelf it. Shit, I’ll be dead anyway. Nobody will read it…

Bullshit. They will read it secretly, which makes it a good fit for digital publication. Damn, I was planning to go the traditional publishing route, hit the grand slam Hollywood franchise, etc. Instead, I better make out my will.

OK, backing off, na. I don’t need to isolate Christian and Islamic Fundamentalists as the bad guys. It may work out even better if the bad guys are generic Godmouths, and it is going to turn out that maybe it is a single pirate franchise. Of course it is, and what if the franchise eliminated Christianity and Islam and all other competition to squash messy historical backfires, and created a new religion. So I move this far enough into the future to make that possible.

One of the advantages of this structure is I get to look forward down the line that the Fundamentalists are pushing, and illustrate the consequences like 1984 –

  • Bad guys attack, bad guys lose. (can’t show bad guys winning)
  • Bad guys attack, bad guys win (Booo!!!)
  • Good guys fight back. Good guys keep fighting back. (Yah.)

What I was trying to show was that opening with the bad guys having won allows me to show the consequences of Fundamentalism should it get its way. It makes the story a heroic struggle to free the people, which is the story I want to tell. And it gives the heroes a task so difficult that the struggle will continue episode after episode.

In fact, this could be a TV series about a secret resistance to a brutal Fundamentalist theocracy.

  • Fundamentalism versus Seekers
  • Fundamentalism versus Fundamentalism

It is not that Fundamentalism demands a Fundamentalist opponent, but that the F V F dynamic is alive and well. Given that there are Fundamentalists locked in mortal combat, apparently, it also makes sense that there will be Seekers inside both F societies, and that the opposing Seekers will not hate each other. This goes to the Romeo and Juliet dynamic, in which the young are not at war, but their parents are. Both sets of parents are prepared to kill their children rather than allow the families to suffer the divine consequences.

Have to think about that. It is for sure a problem IRL. It is the fundamentalist parent / seeker child that breaks the generational cycle of fundamentalist propagation. I have to deal with this dynamic, but also want to show a supporting dynamic as well as a conflicting dynamic.

I want to show more than the family dynamic, I also want to show this as a generational break. This just became a huge story focus. The theme is buried in here.

Harry Potter Skywalker

I think that if I am going to try to reach the YA audience, I need to tell a story. Checked out some YA titles, and I think I am back to the Hero Science Project. Am I really ramping up a YA novel project starring a 14 year old atheist wizard hero? Not only won’t this get me paid, it may get me burned alive.

Sounds like I am in the pocket. Think I will skip any overt implication that the kid is the second coming, except in the way I use the term in the third letter to Pope Francis. I am now thinking of the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. I can try to stay alive by placing this in a future global theocracy where doubt is a capital offense. Now I have my cast of characters, and a 1984-like story.

It may not go, but there are atheist readers. The audience is not as large as the faithful, but neither is the competition anywhere near as intense. I feel that I can hit this, and that I will get a push from the community that will put me over 10K. There is a very solid market for this book, as long as it is something that adults can read as well as teenagers. I go a long way toward making this YA by having a young hero.

I want to make this a series, of course. I can add magic. I can make magical abilities the result of awakening, and this is why the pirates have enslaved the people in a story preventing their escape and acquiring magic. This means there may be a secret resistance.

Now I have Harry Potter crossed with Star Wars, and that almost sells itself. To pull the atheists, I have to be specifically atheist in a cult society where doubt is a death sentence. The cult is controlled by Pirates enslaving the people in a true story to prevent them from escaping and acquiring magic. There is a secret magical alliance, and the young hero will be a natural wizard.

I may want to make him a HS student so I can bring the girlfriend into play. However I set things up, I need to quickly get the story into flight mode.

Hard to imagine that I can carve an atheist line that won’t freak Christians out. I could totally fuck with them by making the rebels a sect of “Natural Christianity,” and now I connect that to Jesus as a wizard, and that is a lock. Now, not only do I provide guidance to young atheists, I provide a Christian Way to awakening. Rather than make Muslims the bad guys, I think I will make this a Fundamentalist Christianity versus Natural Christianity conflict in New America.

I am back to the election line where the Fundamentalists gain power. But I am now going to want to put this in the distant past. Like 1984, there needs to be the “other”, which has to be Islam after all. No problem, I just change the names, and now the hero and the girl have to be from opposite sides like Romeo and Juliet.

I can just move the story to another world to avoid meltdown.

Or I could go with the overt war between Fundamentalist Christianity and Fundamentalist Islam, while the Christian and Muslim Grateful Seekers cooperate in secret resistance to Fundamentalism.